Saturday, December 15, 2007
December's Books of the Month
For this holiday month, why limit the recommendations to just two books? Here are the selections I'm eager to read over the holiday season:
Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium, by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O'Rourke. It's been a very good year for reading economic history -- John Nye's War, Wine, and Taxes, Gregory Clark's A Farewell To Alms -- and this is the last course. Eight years ago, O'Rourke co-authored the very interesting Globalization and History about the 19th century Atlantic economy -- and this is an even grander discussion.
Growing Apart?: America and Europe in the 21st Century, edited by Jeffrey Kopstein and Sven Steinmo. It contains several insightful essays examining the frayed state of transatlantic relations -- particularly Steven Pfaff's comparison of the market for religion in the U.S. and Europe. Full disclosure: I make a contribution as well.
The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy, by Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler. The book is essentially a tick-tock of Rice's various diplomatic forays as Secretary of State, in which she tries and not quite succeeds in digging herself out of the hole created during her time as National Security Advisor. The details are priceless and disturbing. My favorite is State Department counselor Philip Zelikow requesting a sidearm during a trip to Baghdad. The scariest is the notion that Rice failed to comprehend the "responsible stakeholder" language that Bob Zoellick crafted as a way to move the Sino-American relationship forward. I've argued elsewhere that this was a pretty deft formulation, but Rice apparently just though it was "odd."
For more on The Confidante, check out my bloggingheads with Kessler on the fancy new Bloggingheads website..
Supercapitalism, by Robert Reich. I've noticed an interesting trend with Reich's books -- I find myself agreeing more with the arguments in each passing book more and more. I'm not saying I agree with everything the man says, but Reich has traveled a long way since his industrial policy days with Ira Magaziner.
International Institutions and National Policies, by Xinyuan Dai. Why do weak international governmental organizations -- like, say, the Helsinki Accords -- occasionally have powerful effects on nation-states? Dai argues that even weak organizations can empower and mobilize NGOs and domestic actors to act as monitors and enforcers. This argument differs somewhat from my own work -- which means it needs to be read.
Speaking of my own work....
Inspired by Andrew Sullivan, here's your last chance in 2007 to buy someone a copy of All Politics Is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes, written by your humble blogger.
Don't take my word on whether it's good -- just look at the reviews:
" This important book asks two questions about the governance of the world economy: Who sets the rules, and what explains the diverse ways in which the world economy is regulated?.... His main contribution... is to explode a popular notion of globalization and thereby to set an agenda for the study of global regulatory politics." G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs.I mean, when Review of International Organizations likes your work, you can just write your own meal ticket.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Every time I think I'm out, Foreign Affairs pulls me back in
This issue's culprits are governors Mike Huckabee and Bill Richardson. Since Huckabee is the flavor of the month, let's start with his piece, "America's Priorities in the War on Terror: Islamists, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan."
The essay is a great symbol of Huckabee's campaign -- there are feints in interesting directions, but in the end it's just a grab-bag of contradictory ideas.
In a New York Times Magazine profile, Huckabee mentions columnist Thomas Friedman and new sovereigntist Frank Gaffney as his foreign policy influences. Those in the know might believe this to be impossible, but Huckabee's Foreign Affairs essay really is an attempt to mix these two together in some kind of unholy alchemy. Take this paragraph:
American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.Really, you just have to stand back and marvel at the contradiction of sentiments contained in that paragraph. It's endemic to the entire essay -- for someone who claims he wants to get rid of the bunker mentality, Huckabee offers no concrete ideas for how to do that, and a lot of policies (rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty, using force in Pakistan, boosting defense spending by 50%) that will ensure anti-Americanism for years to come.
Then there's the writing -- dear Lord, the writing. Huckabee's essay reads like it was written by people who couldn't hack it on Rudy Giuliani's crack speechwriting team. My favorite sample:
For too long, we have been constrained because our dependence on imported oil has forced us to support repressive regimes and conduct our foreign policy with one hand tied behind our back. I will free that hand from its oil-soaked rope and reach out to moderates in the Arab and Muslim worlds with both.The loopy writing becomes a real problem in the section on Iran. Huckabee makes a pretty savvy point about the differences between Iran and Al Qaeda ("The main difference between these two enemies is that al Qaeda is a movement that must be destroyed, whereas Iran is a nation that just has to be contained.").
But when it comes to changing our policy with Iran, this is what we get:
Sun-tzu's ancient wisdom is relevant today: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Yet we have not had diplomatic relations with Iran in almost 30 years; the U.S. government usually communicates with the Iranian government through the Swiss embassy in Tehran. When one stops talking to a parent or a friend, differences cannot be resolved and relationships cannot move forward. The same is true for countries. The reestablishment of diplomatic ties will not occur automatically or without the Iranians' making concessions that serve to create a less hostile relationship.OK, so what, exactly, is Huckabee offering to do here? Open an embassy in Tehran? Only do so if Iran freezes its nuclear program? Hug Iran a lot? Beats me. [UPDATE: There's another problem with this paragraph -- Sun Tzu never said, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." I remember the quote as emanating from Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II. Thank you, commenters.]
Now on to Richardson -- who, full disclosure, happenes to be a Fletcher School alum. His essay is entitled, "A New Realism: A Realistic and Principled Foreign Policy."
With that title, it seems that Richardson is going to make Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman very happy, but then we read on:
To cope with this new world, we need a New Realism in our foreign policy -- an ethical, principled realism that harbors no illusions about the importance of a strong military in a dangerous world but that also understands the importance of diplomacy and multilateral cooperation. We need a New Realism based on the understanding that what goes on inside of other countries profoundly impacts us -- but that we can only influence, not control, what goes on inside of other countries. A New Realism for the twenty-first century must understand that to solve our own problems, we need to work with other governments that respect and trust us.Simply put, Richardson's New Realism is really Old Liberal Internationalism. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- but there ain't anything realist about it, either.
Beyond the mislabeling, Richardson deserves some credit -- the essay indicates some semi-serious thoughts about how to enhance U.S. influence in the world. And it's actually well-written. It's also the most dovish of all the Democratic submissions to date. Again, I'm not saying that's a bad thing -- oh, hell, I'm saying it a little. If Huckabee is too paranoid about sacrificing American sovereignty, then Richardson is just a wee bit too convinced about the ability of multilateralism to solve everything.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The nine lives of autocrats
My latest column for Newsweek is now available online. It's about how authoritarian leaders have innovated at keeping themselves in power. The opening paragraphs:
Ten years ago the autocrat was an endangered species. According to the conventional wisdom, authoritarian regimes were incapable of adjusting to a world of globalization and global civil society. Autocrats recognized the need to exploit the economic benefits of globalization, but how could they keep out intrusive NGOs and censor the Internet? Policymakers also jumped on this bandwagon. Soon after George W. Bush delivered his second inaugural address, his administration exulted in a wave of democratic uprisings. By the spring of 2005, "color" revolutions took place in Georgia (Rose), Ukraine (Orange), and Lebanon (Cedar). Even totalitarian societies like Belarus faced unrest. Freedom seemed to be on the march.You'll have to read the whole thing to find out why. Go check it out.
UPDATE: One point I should have made but couldn't shoehorn into the essay because of space constraints (yes, they exist in cyberspace). Many of the regimes (though not all) discussed in the article are genunely popular in their countries, because they've been seen as delivering various economic, social, and political benefits. These regimes are still not democratic -- but democracy is not the only source of political legitimacy.
Open Mitchell report thread
Comment away on the imminent arrival of the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball here.
As a Red Sox fan, I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I don't want to see any players from the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams implicated in the report. No matter how you slice it, the inclusion of key names wipes some of the luster off of those victories.
On the other hand, as a baseball fan, I have to hope that at some Red Sox name shows up on the list. Why? Howard Bryant's pre-release critique of Mitchell's techniques at ESPN.com already highlights one line of attack:
Tapping Mitchell, a Red Sox director, to lead the investigation furthered suspicions around baseball that the Red Sox might be treated more favorably in his report than the other clubs. That issue came to the forefront when word leaked just before the pivotal Game 6 of October's ALCS between Cleveland and Boston, won by the Red Sox, that Indians pitcher Paul Byrd had purchased human growth hormone. A day later, Mitchell released a statement denying any involvement in the Byrd leak.Now, I think this is a horses#$t allegation (and to his credit, Bryant later writes: "It didn't come from Mitchell," a league source said of the Byrd leak. "It's ridiculous. Does anybody think that George Mitchell would risk everything he's built over his career just to help the Red Sox win a game?") but if a sufficient number of Red Sox are named, that criticism will be defused -- which would be good for baseball.
UPDATE: Due to a lovely four-hour commute to travel less than 10 miles, I wound up listening to both George Mitchell and Bud Selig's press conferences. Mitchell sounded pretty good; Selig sounded like a complete ass.
Here's a link to the report itself.
It turns out that the biggest favor Gagne may have done Boston is sucking ass for the second half of the season–now, at least, no one can point to him as one of the reason’s for the team’s success.ANOTHER UPDATE: From the report itself:
A number of studies have shown that use of human growth hormone does not increase muscle strength in healthy subjects or well-trained athletes. Athletes who have tried human growth hormone as a training aid have reached the same conclusion. The author of one book targeted at steroid abusers observed that "[t]he most curious aspect of the whole situation is that I've never encountered any athlete using HGH to benefit from it, and all the athletes who admit to having used it will usually agree: it didn't/doesn't work for them.So here's a question -- why care so much about HGH?
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Random GOP debate thoughts
Through a clever strategy of ignoring almost all of the presidential debates to date, I have now positioned myself to be like the majority of voters who are now paying attention to the race.
So here are some idle thoughts as I listen to the GOP debate that C-SPAN is streaming live on its website:
1) A 30 second response to an answer? Gimme a f@#$ing break -- at best you can talk in vague generalities, at worst you sound like.... this person.UPDATE: Debate transcript here.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Restraint and resolve in game theory
Nobel Prize winner Roger Myerson has written a very accessible paper on what game theory can teach powerful states about when it's useful to impose binding constraints on their actions. Here's the abstract:
A great power’s use of its military forces may be rendered ineffective or even counterproductive when there are no clear internationally recognizable limits on this use of force. Professor Myerson derives this conclusion from the basic observation that our ability to influence potential rivals depends on a balanced mix of threats and promises. Potential adversaries should believe that aggression will be punished, but such threats will be useless unless they also believe our promises that good behavior will be better rewarded. A reputation for resolve makes threats credible, but a great power also needs a reputation for restraint, to make the promises credible as well. Thus, international restraints on a nation’s use of military force may actually increase the effective influence of its military strength.Here's a link to the paper itself. No one familiar with Tom Schelling will be surprised, but Myerson's presentation is extraordinarily lucid.
The most important paragraph:
Thus, if we want our application of military force to deter our potential adversaries, rather than stimulate them to more militant reactions against us, then we should make sure that the limits of our forceful actions are clear to any potential adversaries. We need a reputation for responding forcefully against aggression, but we also need a reputation for restraining our responses within clear limits that depend in a generally recognized way on the nature of the provocation. These limits must be clear to our potential adversaries, who must be able to verify that we are adhering to the limits of our deterrent strategy, because it is they whom we are trying to influence and deter.
Monday, December 10, 2007
A slow motion explosion in the Balkans
CNN reports that all of the major players involved in Kosovo agree on one thing -- the status quo cannot hold:
Kosovo will press ahead with plans for independence, a spokesman for the region's Albanian leaders said Monday as negotiators were due to confirm that talks to settle the future status of the Serbian province had failed.The Economist also provides some useful background.
I will be pleasantly surprised if the next six months pass without any significant amount of bloodshed in the Balkans.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
The Lost Weekend of Facebook
On Friday, at the gentle prodding of a friend, I faced the inevitable and took the Facebook plunge.
For a few dizzying hours, I had the same experience that Maria Farrell observed about the social networking site: "Facebook is an opportunity to play the social game again – and lose."
Indeed, setting up the site I felt a uniquely dreadful mixture of high school-level social anxiety combined with a keen awareness that I was wasting hours upon hours looking for old friends on the site.
Longtime readers will be relieved to hear that I've regained my equilibrium now, thanks in no small part to Reihan Salam's Facebook advice.
[So can I be make a friend request for you?--ed. Since we've never actually met, not bloody likely.]
We'll now continue with regularly scheduled blogging.
A retraction on Hugo Chavez
Last week I had some nice words for Hugo Chavez, because he had recogized that he had lost his constitutional referendum and yet respected the outcome.
According to Jorge Castañeda's Newsweek essay, however, Chavez didn't exactly make this decision on his own volition:
[B]y midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d'état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world. So after this purportedly narrow loss Chávez did not even request a recount, and nearly every Latin American colleague of Chávez's congratulated him for his "democratic" behavior.